Lower Nisqually River

Lower Nisqually

The Lower Nisqually

The Nisqually River flows 78 mile from its source at Mt. Rainier to the delta at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Its watershed constitutes 761 square miles of land, yet only a small portion of it, 134 square miles, lies within Thurston County. The majority of the watershed lies within Pierce and Lewis Counties. In contrast to the more pristine designated wilderness areas, working forest lands and rural communities of the upper Nisqually, the Lower Nisqually, which includes portions within the cities of Lacey, Yelm and unincorporated Thurston County, is far more developed. Yet it still contains many fascinating and unique features and habitats.

The Lower Nisqually consists of three general areas: McAllister Creek, Delta Bluff and Nisqually Bluff. Each of these areas has been subject to urban growth and development as the population of Thurston County grows. This results in an increase in roofs, roads and pavement, all of which are impervious to rainfall. This creates two problems: increased volumes of stormwater runoff and degraded water quality as stormwater washes pollutants into streams, creeks and, eventually, Puget Sound.

The McAllister Creek sub-watershed, which incorporates McAllister Springs, Medicine Creek and McAllister Creek, flows northwards through the Nisquall National Wildlife Refuge, where it creates the Nisqually Delta and enters Puget Sound. The sub-watershed is bound by the mainstem of the Nisqually River on the Thurston County side of the river, which includes the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s 6th Avenue public access site. This facility is an important place where the public can access the river for fishing picnicking and boating (Discover Pass required).

The McAllister Creek area currently consists of 21% total impervious surface. As development increases, the total impervious area also increases. In contrast, the Powell Creek area in the Upper Nisqually, southeast of Yelm, is the least affected by development, and has only 1% impervious surface!

The Delta Bluff area lies north of I-5 and can be easily viewed looking west from the trails of the Nisqually Refuge. It extends back from the bluff-line above McAllister Creek to Meridian Road, then to the north for approximately a mile and a half. The Delta Bluff area has a total impervious surface area of 18%.

The third general area of the Lower Nisqually watershed, the Nisqually Bluff area, extends north and west. The Nisqually Bluff areaincludes the majority of the marine nearshore environment, from Luhr Beach and Nisqually Head to the tip of Johnson Point. This area has a total impervious surface area of 20%. It is in this area where the city limits of Lacey stretch all the way north to Puget Sound near Butterball Cove.

Located in this rich and diverse area is the Nisqually Reach Nature Center at Luhr Beach, where the intertidal zone is accessible to the public (Discover Pass required). Almost directly west is a shellfsh farming business that grows oysters on 300 acres of intertidal Puget Sound beach and ships fresh shellfsh from the Nisqually to locations throughout the country on a daily basis.

Shellfsh farming is dependent on good water quality. While some small areas remain off limits to harvest, the good news is that the Washington State Department of Health has lifted harvest restrictions on over 1,000 acres of tidelands that were formerly downgraded in the Lower Nisqually watershed due to bacterial pollution. As part of the effort to reduce potentially harmful bacteria pollution that impacts shellfsh harvesting, Thurston County Environmental Health established a Septic System Operations and Maintenance program in 2013. Modeled after the successful Henderson Inlet septic program that contributed to a remarkable increase in water quality in the inlet, the Nisqually program is designed to assure that on-site sewage (septic) systems are functioning properly. Through required inspections and certifcation, systems found to be improperly functioning can be identifed and repaired, resulting in cleaner, healthier waters in the Lower Nisqually watershed (for more information go to: http://www.co.thurston.wa.us/health/ehrp/nisqually.html).

Tolmie State Park, with 1,800 feet of marine shoreline, is also a great place to enjoy the beauty of the Lower Nisqually watershed (Discover Pass required).

Lower Nisqually